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MOVIE REVIEW
Love Like Poison (2010)

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There is a disturbing recent trend in French cinema regarding teenage actresses, their bodies and the exploration of their sexuality as the plot of a film and the camera's exploration of their flesh as the milieu. This trend has, one hopes, achieved its apex in "Love Like Poison," a story so confused and degrading that the only sympathetic, normal character is a priest.

Katell Quillévéré's film is about 14-year-old Anna (Clara Augarde), whose life is a mess. She has come to her paternal grandfather Jean's (Michel Galabru) on a break from boarding school to be confirmed into the Catholic church. Anna's religious mother Jeanne (Lio) has been staying with Jean since her separation from Paul (Thierry Neuvic), who is mostly out of the picture. Anna's only friend is Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil), a 13-year-old choirboy from church who is a good head shorter than she is. Everyone in the movie — with the merciful exception of the priest (Stefano Cassetti) behaves inappropriately toward Anna. Well, that's being tactful. Her mother denies her privacy; her father tries to pretend she's still a little girl; Pierre's romantic ineptness is more creepy than endearing; and her grandfather should at minimum die from shame.

There is no plot to speak of, and the action consists of a peculiar stew of confusion, illness, loathing and repressed sexuality. Ms. Quillévéré shot the movie in Brittany, where the windswept settings are a good metaphor for the turbulence in Anna's life. The small budget shows, but good use is made of the camera to fill out the life of the town that Anna is trapped in. Still, there is simply no excuse for the prurient interest cinematographer Tom Harari's camera takes in Ms. Augarde's body. The actress's age is not publicly available, and the most explicit shots in the movie are clearly doubled; but shots of her body in this film were, frankly, pornographic. That is, things which others are not meant to see. Why has Ms. Quillévéré joined the list of female French directors, including Céline Sciamma ("Water Lilies"), Sophie Laloy ("Highly Strung") and — most notoriously — Catherine Breillat, who exploit the youth and innocence of their actresses?

The original French title of "Love Like Poison" comes from a song by Serge Gainsbourg, who once recorded a track titled "Lemon Incest" with his then-12-year-old daughter Charlotte. The only laugh in the film comes with the closing credits, which Ms. Quillévéré chose to play under Scala's version of “Creep” (the one from the trailer of "The Social Network"). No doubt the reference to herself was unintentional. What the hell is she doing here?

LOVE LIKE POISON

Opens on May 13 in Britain.

Directed by Katell Quillévéré; written by Ms Quillévéré and Mariette Désert; director of photography, Tom Harari; edited by Thomas Marchand; music by Olivier Mellano; art director, Anna Falguères; costumes by Mahemiti Deregnaucourt; produced by Justin Taurand; released by Artificial Eye. In French, Italian and English, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. This film is rated 15.

WITH: Clara Augarde (Anna Falguères), Lio (Jeanne Falguères), Michel Galabru (Jean Falguères), Stefano Cassetti (Father François), Thierry Neuvic (Paul Falguères) and Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil (Pierre).

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